Trucks of a Lifetime: 1986 F150 4X4 – Unstoppable and Unkillable

The “after” picture

In my previous story I had decided that the major shortcoming of  my 1972 F100  was no longer something I could live with, namely the lack of four wheel drive. While I liked the truck a lot and it still looked good, the body was definitely deteriorating from my amateur body work and a few winters. As with the last truck the change of seasons into spring had me searching for a new ride.

Once again the local newspaper provided the truck I was looking for. A 1986 F150 4X4, plain as plain could be. It had fresh paint, the coveted by some 300 6 Cylinder and a 4 speed. It was exactly what I wanted. At the time I didn’t know much about the 6 cylinder engine however. It seemed like a backwards step; a smaller engine for a 4X4 truck. Everyone I talked to set me straight however and I went in knowing what a legendary engine it was.

Not the engine from the subject truck, but a more recent acquisition

I went to see it after work one weekend afternoon. It was indeed fresh paint, but definitely a backyard job. The owner had converted it from a single tone brown to two tone brown and white. The liberal use of gravel guard hid what was no doubt a bunch of filler but the seller did have an actual small body shop in his backyard. Inside, it was filthy and well used. It had a rubber floor mat which was worn through in places, a well worn vinyl seat and that was it. An AM Radio appeared to be the sole option other than the F250 spring pack in the rear, giving it a pronounced downward slant. Pretty much what I wanted. The kicker? 275,000 kilometers (170,000 miles) on the clock. And since the speedometer didn’t work I was suspicious of how many kilometers were actually on it, although the owner assured me the speedometer had “just quit”. Sometime in the last 100,000 km I assumed.

He was asking $4700 and I knew I needed a few things for it so I couldn’t pay that. I was persistent if nothing else so I commenced negotiations. We settled finally on $4100, I think just to shut me up, with the stipulation it was as-is, where is. As in he was not re-assembling it after the paint job. So after catching a ride to the sellers house with a certified cheque, I carefully drove it with no grill, bumpers, mirrors, lights, door handles, and tailgate to the hangar I worked at. The truck was what I expected. It ran great, drove just fine and the 300-6 was everything I had heard it would be – better than the 302 it replaced in my opinion.

A rare picture of the truck at home, not moving

I got it to the shop without getting pulled over (no insurance either) and started work. We put it together, and that was pretty much the last time that truck sat still.

Working two jobs I drove a lot, and I used it for work for the aviation job quite a bit as we were operating helicopters and often it was easier just to use my own truck. The owner was good about buying gas and whatever else so it worked out fine. It did a lot of miles out in the bush full of fuel barrels, or hauling helicopter equipment such as firefighting buckets and aerial seeding rigs. I was a busy 19 year old too, hanging out with friends and trying out the 4 wheel drive as much as possible. Often that summer the hood was still warm from the night before when I got up to go back to one of my jobs.

It was really a great truck.   The aforementioned 6 cylinder was everything it was supposed to be – strong, reliable and indestructible. The shockingly low oil pressure worried me, but not the engine. I put a Stewart Warner gauge kit on it to reassure me it actually made pressure, and it mostly did. The truck had the Borg Warner T-18 four speed with the granny non-synchro low gear. Starting out in 3rd gear was not a problem if one desired. With the transmission in first and the transfer case in 4-low, I could literally, and sometimes did, walk faster when negotiating a tricky trail. It was a great 4X4 and dished out everything I could throw at it.

With our new found wealth and full time jobs, my buddy and I invested in a boat. The Sears brand 12’ aluminum caught our eyes one day and for $500 ($250 each) it, along with a 1966 4 HP Evinrude it was ours. It even came with one paddle. We immediately set out to find all of the fishing lakes in our area, including and especially all of the ones that were really difficult to get to. We found a few roads that challenged even our lack of common sense and found out how far the truck could twist before we blew rivets out of the boat that was strapped securely to the top of the box.

At one of Those lakes, with a new headache rack I found somewhere

Winter brought us to snowmobiling season and the truck was pressed into service towing a home made trailer with both sleds on it up and down a variety of poorly maintained winter logging roads. I learned a lot about driving on winter logging roads after a few terrifying experiences sliding sideways, forward and/or backwards down a few hills. I couldn’t afford winter tires or chains (or chose not to spend the money on them anyway) and learned some hard lessons but no damage.

Slow crawling and excessive idling caused it to heat up so after a year of ownership it required a new radiator. Other than that it was pretty much bullet proof. A couple of U-joints here and there, and it was good to go. Some new shocks reduced the bone jarring ride from the heavy rear springs and of course the mandatory stereo modifications.

After a very busy summer of 1996 with a ton of driving, fishing, camping and working it was time to do something with my life. I was signed up for my first term of Aircraft Maintenance training near Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was a 1900 KM drive to school and the truck performed great all across the prairies. I got my first sustained taste of what ended up being a record cold Prairie winter. By late November the temperature was -40 (Celsius, Fahrenheit all the same at -40 . …) but the 300-6 would still start although I consented to plugging in the block heater.

When I left for home, it was almost Christmas. The weather took a turn for the worse which I would have previously thought was impossible. I loaded the truck in the morning, drove the few blocks to school and left it idling for the duration of my final exam. The rad was blocked with the obligatory prairie winter front – a piece of cardboard between the grill and the rad. I taped the passenger door shut to seal it off and the rear sliding window as well. When I finished the exam, I hit the road with no delay. 6 hours later, and only 300 km west I finally crossed the border into the Province of Saskatchewan, and made it safely to my overnight stop with family in Regina.

Something like this, but with more snow, for 800 miles

Somewhere near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan I realized I was likely not going to make the next fuel stop. The truck had two tanks and the levels were dropping at an alarming rate. When I pulled over to check it out the engine promptly quit. A little worried to say the least I pried the frozen hood open and saw the carb and air cleaner encrusted in ice and snow. I couldn’t get the automatic choke to release no doubt due to -35 or so outside air temp and high winds. I figured I was not shutting it off anyway, so off came my size 13 steel toed boot and I gently smashed the plastic automatic choke off the side of the carb. With a tie wrap I held the choke wide open and headed west once again, this time using a little less fuel. I made it home by about 10PM that night after a total of 28 hours behind the windshield.

I came back to a new job, and other changes in my life. The truck stayed with me and dealt well with the 80 km daily commute to my new job. By that time the truck was showing about 360,000 km (225,000 miles) but still ran great. It required a clutch in the spring but that was relatively painless. The questionable body work was showing through and lots of hard driving was making it look pretty rough now. Time for a paint job.

I sourced out a new front fender, and new-used tail gate as the previous aftermarket tailgate installed by the former owner had succumbed to one too many snowmobile/ATV/dirt bike/45 gallon drums and exploded into pieces the previous year and was replaced with a nice 2X10 I found at the dump. I bought all the supplies, and went at it at our family’s shop conveniently located across from a body shop whose owner, still a good friend of mine today, let me use his paint booth.

I put it into primer in our own shop then rolled it across to the booth for the spray. My buddy and the co-owner of our boat, arrived after work to help paint it. We had both taught ourselves painting at our previous employer and were pretty OK at it, or at least we thought so. We flipped a coin; I got the front half and he did the back half. With a metallic dark brown it turned out very well with only a couple of blemishes.

Painted, parked and ready for sale – but still missing a tailgate for some reason

I had thought about selling the truck previous to this, but after painting it I had second thoughts. It did look really good . . . . maybe a lift kit, new tires? My Dad offered his advice – sell it while it looks good. So that’s what I did. I found another vehicle – see if you can guess what it was – and put the truck up for sale after 2 years and 2 months of ownership. It sold relatively quickly despite the 375,000 km on it for more than I paid for it, which was certainly the last time that happened. When I last saw the truck, it was about 8 years later and it was well over 600,000 km  and still ticking. I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere serving someone well.

The next vehicle was a departure from the previous two in some ways. And I never forgot how much I admired the 6 cylinder engine, which showed up in another truck in the fleet in the distant future.